A Ten Year View, Discharges to the St Lucie Estuary
Today I share images that help tell the story of the St Lucie Estuary over the past ten years. The first image is from the website eyeonlakeo. My brother, Todd Thurlow, takes data from D-Hydro of the SFWMD and puts it into a format that the average person can understand.
The chart above shows the “S-80 spillway at St Lucie Locks’ cumulative discharges by CALENDAR YEAR, 2011-2020.”
Scientists use Water Years, May 1 of one year, through April 30 of the next year. This splits up the years making it more confusing to remember or understand. We, as people, live our lives in calendar years.
We can see by looking at Todd’s chart that 2016’s calendar year is highest overall discharge year with 842,775 acre feet (one foot of water covering one acre) of water going to the St Lucie from what is called “local runoff” (all canals and surrounding areas) as well as discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
How large is 842,775 acres? Comparatively, Martin County is 347, 520 acres. 2020 is 188,723 acre feet and climbing. We are talking tremendous amounts of water!
In descending order, we see 2016; 2013; 2017; 2018; 2015; 2020; 2012; 2014; 2019; and 2011. The brown of line of 2020 crests 2015 as when the year is completed, 2020 will more than likely be higher than 2015.
“Could you please get me a chart or graph showing discharges to the St Lucie River for 2012-2020 by month. Please present this information from January through December of each calendar year and break it out from S-80 and S-308 and also give a total combined number. Please also note for each of those calendar years, the highest level Lake Okeechobee got that year.”
To view this information, click on Charts in red below for visuals, and data in red below for numerical charts. As mentioned this information below is from the SFWMD. This compiled information provides great perspective.
I, as many, participated in yesterday’s Army Corp of Engineers‘ Periodic Scientist Call. During the course of the call, it was alluded that the ACOE may be letting up or halting Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie Estuary soon. As soon as they do, we will begin to chart calendar year 2021. All things considered, everything in me believes it will be better than 2020!
Today is October 26, these photos/videos were taken over the weekend on October 24, 2020. The first is the St Lucie River looking off the Evan’s Crary Bridge at Sewall’s Point; the second is a video of the St Lucie River taken between Rio and Stuart; and the third is a video of a brown ocean at Peck’s Lake. The St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and much of the east coast of South Florida have endured tremendous, repetitive downpours in 2020, causing massive “local basin runoff.” The St Lucie has been stressed for months, and since October 14, there are also discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Prior to that, there had been no Lake O discharges since March of 2019. This post is written to document this discharge era for today and for later reference.
1-Video visual water quality from boat, wide St Lucie River near Rio 10-24-20
2-Video visual water coloring, Atlantic Ocean at Peck’s Lake, south of St Lucie Inlet 10-24-20
DOCUMENTING THE DISCHARGES 2020
Covid-19, an active hurricane season, and the 2020 presidential election have captured our attention, but most of know, as this Tyler Treadway Stuart News article reports, much to our dismay, due to a high rate of Lake Okeechobee rise, and after weeks of media briefings, and warnings, a reluctant ACOE started discharging to the St Lucie River on October 14th. Thankfully, for much of the time, it has been difficult due King Tides. The discharges are expected at least another week longer if not a month depending weather and rainfall from Tropical Storm Zeta. See link below from the ACOE’s most recent, 10-20-20, Periodic Scientist Call for more info.
The most comprehensive place to keep track of all this is Todd Thurlow’s website (http://eyeonlakeo.com) that provides a multitude of easily interpreted information. Check it every day, especially LIVE DATA and Satelitte NCCOS HAB images of Lake Okeechobee.
Michael Conner, THE INDIAN RIVERKEEPER keeps an active Facebook page on Lake O discharge and other local issues and is often on the ground reporting.
Also on 10-14-20 The Florida Department of Environmental Protection put out a press release: “Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Preparation for Algae Bloom Mitigation Following Announcement by Corps of Releases From Lake O.” This technology has not been needed thus far.
I can’t forget to include that October 11, 2020, right before the discharges began, Ed and I took this video documenting a significant algae bloom in the middle of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time it has been too stormy, or cloudy to go up. Usually, rain and lack of sunshine minimize visual blue-green algae blooms as can be seen on Todd’s website. The algae does remain in the water column. This image/video was shared by many news stations and posted on Facebook.
3-Large algae bloom in middle of Lake Okeechobee, 10-11-20.
Next , I would like to document Florida Oceanographic CEO, Mark Perry’s recent op-ed as it gives us pause. “Why can’t, why aren’t we able to send more water south?” We know a lot has been done, and we are grateful, however, 2020 is not 1948, we must continue to advocate for a better water future…
OP-ED MARK PERRY, PUBLISHED IN STUART NEWS, October 15, 2020
Lake Okeechobee discharges can go south now.
As the water level rises in Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering discharges to the coastal estuaries, the St. Lucie to the east and Caloosahatchee to the west.
According to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the Corps considers where the lake level is at this time of year within the “operational band,” which ranges from 10.50 to 17.25 feet of elevation. Then, based on the rainfall outlook and tributary conditions, they determine “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the water conservation areas and to the estuaries.
The water conservation areas (900,000 acres) are the remnant Everglades, south of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) which is the 700,000 acres immediately south of the lake used primarily for growing sugarcane.
For “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the estuaries, the Corps has specify flow amounts going to each estuary, which can be “up to 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to the Caloosahatchee and 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie.”
That is where they are right now with the lake at 16.02 feet elevation.
But the “allowable” releases to the water conservation areas are always “up to maximum practicable.” What does that mean? Well, they rarely talk about how much they can release to the water conservation areas, and never tell us how much should be considered to go south.
In fact, water has been flowing south into the water conservation areas all throughout this wet season, May through October.
But it is not coming from the lake.
About 955,000 acre feet (311 billion gallons) has been going into the water conservation areas from the EAA basin runoff. This means that they are keeping the EAA water table down to 10.5 feet — ideal for crops — by draining all this water through our 57,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas and into the water conservation areas — the Everglades.
Meanwhile, the Corps says they must discharge Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries because they can’t release it to the south. Well, they can — they have been doing it for months and they still are today, but it is all coming from the EAA basin runoff!
All this time, we could have been releasing lake water to the water conservation areas, and we could do the same right now instead of killing the estuaries with releases and wasting this water to tide.
But for that to happen, we need to tell the EAA to store and treat runoff on their own land so the stormwater treatment areas can be used for water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee.
The Corps and South Florida Water Management District are jointly responsible for managing water in south Florida. We need to have them focus on restoring more natural water storage and treatment north of the lake, in the 2.5 million acre watershed, so the lake doesn’t fill up so fast.
But we must also get them to flow south from the lake to the Everglades during the wet and dry seasons. We don’t have to wait for huge regional projects to be authorized and completed, we can do this now.
The lake is rising quickly because the EAA is using the capacity to send water south. Agricultural interests would like it to stay high because during the dry season, November thru April, the EAA will demand water from the Lake, about 350,000 acre feet, as water supply for their crops.
These are ideal conditions for the EAA, but not so good for the lake, the greater Everglades ecosystem and the coastal estuaries.
Mark Perry is executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
Below are Florida Oceanographic’s most recent St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon water quality reports
Finally: During Rivers Coalition meeting 10-22-20 more expansive documentation/reporting of on-going seagrass loss/slow recovery in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was requested. It was noted that SFWMD “Ecological Reports” cover only two historical seagrass areas of the once lush and healthy Sailfish Flats.
You may have seen my most recent Lake Okeechobee post from July 25, 2020? After algae aerials since May 8th, my dear husband, Ed, said he saw no algae. Ed and I had a back and forth -me saying the algae “was hiding.” Hiding in the water column. Ed saying it was gone. Well, guess what? I was correct…
Today, July 29, only four days later, the cyanobacteria is back. There was one positive to it all. Ed added to his long list of esteemed flight guests, Ft Meyer’s Captains Chris Whitman and Daniel Andrews – the faces of Captains for Clean Water. The east and west coasts of Florida have been advocating together since the days of the Sugarland Rally in 2013. East and west, an important water alliance.
According to Ed, “the algae was bright and visible over the majority of the western, and southern-central portion of the lake, but became less dense as one approached Port Mayaca.”
“Were you surprised the cyanobacteria had returned?” I asked.
Ed had a very simple answer: “yes.”
Ed also said it was a great to hosts the Captains. What an honor.
Below are some of Ed and Captain Daniel’s photographs from Wednesday, July 29, 2020. You will see, with the sun shining, the lake is once again, visibly, full of algae. This is important documentation for the Army Corp of Engineers as we possibly face a very wet weekend.
Today’s flight, 7-18-20, revealed a lack-luster colored algae bloom blown to the southwest area of Lake Okeechobee. Rather than the florescent green often seen, there was more of a pea-green conglomeration against the west side. But it was there.
Keeping up the Lake Okeechobee algae bloom documentation, Ed and I flew from Stuart to Lake Okeechobee during a hazy, hot high-noon, on Sunday, July 5, 2020. The algae was much toned down from our previous flights in June. Nonetheless, one could see the pattern, the outline, of the giant bloom from above. Rain may have disrupted its perk but the bloom remains in the water column. The most visual appeared to be in the middle of the lake and again, about a mile or so off Port Mayaca.
I have included photographs of the journey: St Lucie River at Palm City; flying over western lands and under construction C-44 Reservoir/STA ; FPL cooling pond; algae in Lake O; Clewiston; south rim of lake with agriculture and sugar fields; Indiantown and Hwy. 710; DuPuis and Corbett Wildlife Areas; one glance back to Lake Okeechobee; and an updated 2020 “Covid-19 portrait” of Ed and me.
We will continue to document throughout the summer. Keep up the fight! Stop the Discharges! Stop the Algae!
~Your eye in the sky
Jacqui & Ed
This shot, below, was taken flying back east over the Village of Indiantown. Highway 710 is seen bisecting neighboring Dupuis and Corbett Wildlife Area and John and Mariana Jones Hungryland Wildlife Area. I will be writing more about the protected areas and the highway that cuts through them in the future.
Because the Baron needs hours on the engine, my husband Ed and I have been up in the sky a lot lately. Sometimes I am with him and sometimes I am not, but through technology we are always connected.
Today I am sharing all aerials Ed took yesterday, 6-17-20, that continue to document a very expansive algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee.
So where exactly is the algae? I can tell you, from the sky, flying over the central and southern part of the lake -at two, to five thousand feet -going two-hundred miles per hours -it sometimes becomes one giant blur of green. Right now, the bloom is visible mostly in the south central (east, west and central) areas of the lake, not in the north.
Seeing the algae depends on lighting and some areas are brighter than others, but when the sun hits the water just right, a sheen is everywhere.
About a mile and a half off Port Mayaca’s S-308 on the east side is the brightest and weirdest of all often displaying geometric formations due to boat traffic through the channel.
The ACOE has been flowing C-44 into the lake at S-308 but this certainly is not the cause of all the algae. Ed and I have years of documentation. The lake is eutrophic. Winds also affect the collection and formation of the algae. For a deeper dive into this you can visit my brother Todd Thurlow’s website EyeOnLakeO.
Here are all photos 6-17-20 with some comment clues and GPS. I have made one comment and then all photos that follow are the same location just a different angle. Use the GPS too. Question? Just ask!
Documenting St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee, Saturday, June 13, 2020
Today’s post includes two sets of photos taken from two different planes: the Supercub and the Baron. The Supercub is the classic yellow “River Warrior” open-air plane, and the Baron is a closed cockpit twin-engine with the distinctive upturned wing-tip. The Supercub can fly low and slow, the Baron can fly higher and faster. Both offer unique perspectives to photograph our waterways.
Dr. Scott Kuhns and Steve Schimming shared photos taken from the Supercub in the morning hours of Saturday, 6-13-20. Scott uses a quality Nikon camera thus his photos offer a wider or closer perspective. Thank you Scott and Steve, long time River Warriors and friends. Their photos reveal the coffee color of the St Lucie following torrential rains.
This next set of aerials was taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, and myself the same day, 6-13-20, a few hours later, closer to noon. Again, it is important to note the St Lucie area recently experienced particularly heavy rains, only Broward County and parts of Miami- Dade had more. So we can learn about this, I am sharing the most recent Water Conditions Report of the SFWMD for details of all the St Lucie and all south and central Florida. See link under Rainfall Distribution Comparison slide below.
The first group of photos from Ed and I in the Baron is of the St Lucie River and the second set is of algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee. NOTE THE ACOE IS NOT DISCHARGING INTO THE ST LUCIE AT THIS TIME.
We continue to document and thank all who are working towards projects and ways of life that better water quality in the state of Florida. We know what we need to do!
This morning, for purposes of documentation, I am posting the path my husband, Ed Lippisch, flew over Lake Okeechobee yesterday (6-10-20) and all aerials taken. Thank you to my brother Todd Thurlow, who shares technical information on his website, for re-creating Ed’s path via Flight Aware, and for also sharing the latest satellite high resolution images of Sentinel 2 retrieved 6-9-20. All of Ed’s phots displayed in gallery format below were taken from 2000 to 1500 feet on return flight along southern portion of Lake Okeechobee ending at Port Mayaca, east central, Martin County. His flight to the west coast was at 5000 feet and Ed said he saw no algae visible from that perspective.